Every now and then you hear of mildly miffed celebrities – Michael Parkinson, Christopher Eccleston – who were approached by Who Do You Think You Are? only to be jettisoned once the producers discovered little of note in their ancestry. ITV have neatly sidestepped this with DNA Journey, which began last year with Ant and Dec, and resumed with the banter-saturated pairing of Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff and Jamie Redknapp.
Who needs sensational skeletons tucked away in the furthest reaches of family trees when you have a pair of celebrities who, rather than the traditional WDYTYA solemnity and lachrymosity, approach the task like two naughty schoolboys doing their best to behave on a school trip? This is not a criticism – the former sportsmen’s inability to take the whole thing seriously was enjoyable, whether mocking a historian’s penchant for loud shirts or teasing each other about who’d have the most rotten ancestors. There would be no sobbing in a National Trust tea room over a centuries-dead washerwoman here.
That isn’t to say there weren’t stories. Redknapp feared he’d come from a long line of East End gangsters, only to discover that his three-times great-grandfather, Charles William Lawson, was a Yorkshire pitman who had been awarded the King George Medal for saving a colleague’s life.
For the briefest of moments, as he stood deep underground holding Charles’s medal, Redknapp seemed on the verge of emotion. Flintoff, ever the laddish wingman, came to his rescue: “That’s your first medal,” he joked of the former Liverpool and Spurs player. “Get yourself onto BBC One if you want to do that getting choked up nonsense,” he didn’t add.
The programme told a good yarn. Flintoff, at first, was presented with Albert Flintoff, a serial chancer who had been arrested for stealing cars (“I present Top Gear, I don’t need this”), before going onto one failed, debt-ridden business venture after the other. Redknapp beamed, thinking of his heroic miner.
It was all played as a big, daft adventure game, but there was no denying the satisfaction in seeing Redknapp lumbered with another ancestor who’d committed one of the biggest frauds in British history (£2.5 m in today’s money), before Flintoff learnt that old Albert had a medal too – for bravery at the Battle of the Somme. It seems the Flintoffs do a good trade in flawed heroes.